No Game Today: Guild Wars 2

This section is dedicated to the No Game Today videogame review project,
and specifically the Guild Wars 2 MMORPG.

Guild Wars 2 Content & Feature Update Chart

"I left during ..., what changed in Guild Wars 2? What's new?"

guild wars 2 content and feature update chart

Ver. 2.90 Ч last updated September 2017 (pre-PoF)

Guild Wars 2 Video Review

Guild Wars 2 Five Years Later: Best Game State since Launch

Intro

Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG that launched in 2012 with one core concept in mind: get rid of all those profit-driven design philosophies that made MMOs not fun and that stopped more casual players from enjoying them. As any innovative product aiming at an underdeveloped niche, Guild Wars 2 couldn't get everything right straight away, and yet those who stayed with the game were there to watch it grow and perfect itself through trial and error. And 5 years later, with 2 Living World seasons, an expansion, another Living World season released and another expansion right around the corner, Guild Wars 2 turned from an awkward dragon duckling asking "Where do I belong?" into a beautiful dragon— swan with a strong identity.

Launch

At its launch state, Guild Wars 2 struggled with generating enough long-lasting resonance within the gaming community: for Guild Wars 1 players, it was a vastly different game and not an iteration on what they got used to; for those coming from WoW, it was not competitive and challenging enough; and the actual, more casual, target audience likely did not talk about games in the first place. So 5 years later, we get people who either never heard of the game, or honestly believe that it's still in the very same state and is just quietly dieing after going F2P.

Another part of the lack of resonance for this very solo-friendly game might also be attributed to the "Guild Wars 2" title itself, which is a lore reference and not gameplay description as one may rightfully assume. GW2's PvE story revolves around you slaying the Elder Dragons—powerful beings that may or may not be holding the world in balance—and dealing with those who have other plans for Tyria's future—such as worshippers of ancient races or even human Gods. GW2's Structured PvP is a separate competitive game mode where levels are irrere... illere... where only skill matters, and WorldvWorld is a massive endless three-way server-vs-server-vs-server skIRmish with towers, castles, siege and everything else an epic fantasy battle needs.

At launch, back in 2012, all three areas of the game lacked in some way: PvE could really present larger endgame goals and more challenging content, and both PvP modes were in need of streamlining, better incentives, and more variety to truly shine. Luckily for us folks in 2017, these major issues have already been addressed, and we can take a look at this chart over here to see what changed and what the game has to offer today... oookay, I'll put a link in the description.

PvE

The PvE side of the game—which is arguably the most important one—is now on a stable schedule of receiving content that is permanent and does not get invalidated by new expansions thanks to ArenaNet's horizontal progression policy. Several larger open-world maps (filled with things like Dynamic Event chains, Adventure minigames and map-wide World Bosses that all make the world feel alive) are released in an expansion, and these are followed by smaller maps every couple of months during the Living World season releases. Expansion maps are largely built around the core major mechanic of the expansion (such as gliding or mounts), and Living World maps iterate on those but provide unique twists that bring something exciting and new to the table.

New story chapters come coupled with the new maps (or actually, the other way round, story is what makes you go there), and you can earn new gear with newer stats and new cosmetic skins through playing these maps and completing map and story achievements. Seasonal festivals, smaller world events and optional side-quests are thrown into the mix between releases to keep things fresh for those who already mastered newer raid wings (with achievements that, say, unlock legendary armour) and newer progressive dungeons (called Fractals) which require a sensible degree of mode-specific vertical progression that will keep you busy for a while.

All this may sound overwhelming to someone new to the MMO genre, but just as initially planned back at launch, the game is designed to be easily approachable—with its gradual progression and systems that result in a helpful, and not competing, community. There is no kill-stealing or node-stealing, levels are dynamically changed in low-level zones, build system is not punishing and lets you unlock everything at your own pace and stay self-sustainable, area-based quests offer a multitude of solutions and are mostly there to direct you towards chains of dynamic events, traveling is fast thanks to Waypoints (and later gliding and mounts), exploration gets more diverse with Jumping Puzzles and underwater fights, combat feels dynamic with non-rooted casts, jumping, dodging and fluid animations, story content is adjusted to be soloable while epic open-world bosses are suitable for uncoordinated groups. And most importantly, you do not have to worry about falling behind everyone else if you leave for a while.

Business Model

Player resurgence is, in and of itself, an integral part of the business model of GW2. Despite the core game being free-2-play—or rather, offering an extremely generous endless trial,—the expansion packs are buy-2-play, which ensures their high quality and high longevity, as well as lack of pay-2-win items in the cash-shop (which is reserved for convenience and cosmetic items only and even allows you to convert the in-game currency to buy stuff; this tie-in to real-world money also results in a surprisingly stable economy). Living World episodes are free as long as you simply log-in during their release window, or they can be bought later both with cash or by converting the same in-game currency. But let not this "paid" part scare you: firstly, the Megaservers system (that replaced the initial problematic server-based map instancing) dynamically manages player population across servers and makes sure you always have people to play with in the open world, and secondly, the game is designed in a way that always provides incentives for others to come back to specific maps.

Progression

Character progression in Guild Wars 2 expansions is largely horizontal: after bumping the number of available classes to 9 (with any of the 5 races useable for all, unlike in some other MMOs), the developers have decided on releasing with each expansion a set of 9 Elite Specializations that significantly change how their base classes work—via adding weapons, skills, and traits. To train these Elite Specs, you, again, play the new content and complete specific objectives while learning newer mechanics that steadily make it into the game: synergetic enemy groups, Breakbars, Special Actions, Fixation, Barrier, Bullet Hell, Faction swap, Circle debuffs, low gravity and other complex interactions increase reliance on acquired skill in both instanced and open-world PvE content and even pull a unique version of soft Trinity back into Raids and Fractals. And while you're playing, you are also training new Masteries—specific class-independent abilities that turn content into a Metroidvania-style experience by gradually unlocking things like gliding, mounts, jumping mushrooms and so on.

Gear progression is, as well, mostly horizontal: top-tier Ascended gear appears, number-wise, only slightly better than the lower max-level Exotic tier that can easily be earned or crafted by newer players and will be enough for most content; and yet, it works as a long-term goal with further marginal improvement potential. But wait, there's more!—for veteran players, the Legendary tier offers extra convenience at the cost of significant skill, time, and currency investment. Specific gear stat combos can be tied to specific content, so features like free stat-swapping can be rather useful since proper stat distribution and skill and trait selection define each niche build in a lot stronger way than gear tier. That, again, doesn't mean that you can't jump straight into the fun with faster and cheaper setups—but in this minmaxing lies the true potential of GW2's gear system. So, again and in another words, top-tier gear does not work as a content gate: it is not required, yet it is desirable, which is a good thing for a game.

Another set of things that are very desirable in Guild Wars 2—nicknamed Fashion Wars 2 for a reason—is skins. Since the addition of the extremely convenient Wardrobe feature that lets you unlock thousands of cosmetic skins, the variety of those has increased dramatically: you can customize not only your 6 armour pieces (dyeable with a couple hundred dyes), up to 4 equipped weapons and a backpack, but also things like Gliders, Mounts, Finishers, collectable Miniatures (again, hundreds) and even Mail Carriers; Legendary gear and certain expensive Infusions provide unique cosmetic effects on top of that. For those overwhelmed, there is an Outfit system that offers instant complete looks; for those underwhelmed, there are Makeover and Hair Stylist kits that let you change your character's appearance if the one you chose during character creation no longer excites you. And if dress-up is not your thing and you prefer building, you can become a Scribe (new crafting profession) and craft decorations for your guild's Guild Hall to turn them into custom Jumping Puzzles or just cool areas to hang out it in.

PvP

Aesthetics are now part of Structured PvP, too; Wardrobe works across all game modes, and PvP Reward Tracks, as well as regular PvP League seasons (for solo and duo players) and Automated Tournaments (for teams) provide players with a variety of monetary and cosmetic incentives, including unique ones and those useful in other game modes. The stats and tiers of equipped PvE gear are irrelevant in PvP; PvP build is created with a set of amulets, runes and sigils through its own panel and you can use all specs and traitlines straight away regardless of your PvE progression. Old maps are reworked as needed, new maps are steadily added to the rotation of the main competitive PvP mode—Conquest—while the other two modes, Stronghold and Team Deathmatch, are there for those who look for variety. Rewards have been largely unlinked from ranks, which resulted in an overall better environment; you can both show off your rapid progress if you're a pro, or slowly work towards your goal as a newbie, and both worlds will be happy; oookay, who am I kidding, no one's EVER happy in PvP.

WvW

Unlike Structured PvP, World vs. World—the three-way server-on-server mode—uses PvE gearing and build systems. Elite Specializations as well as balance patches can shift the meta considerably, but the addition of WorldvWorld Reward Tracks and weekly Skirmish Tracks provides players with resources for adjusting their playstyle—as well as really long-term goals for dedicated players. Leveling in WorldvWorld lets you improve your character's abilities in various ways—such as being able to glide on territories controlled by your world, which is rather useful in the newer larger map. World Linking is applied manually to balance out population on different servers, and various adjustments are being made to remedy the larger, systemic issues of the game mode itself, in which different players can have fundamentally different, mutually exclusive goals.

Outro

As we can see, Guild Wars 2 managed to improve significantly since its launch in 2012. It retained the core anti-evil, pro-fun concepts but iterated on them to make sure there is enough depth and variety to keep you busy long after you started—be it challenging group content, expensive skins, high rankings or just your guild shenanigans. Dynamic events, for one, are an exemplar of such successful iteration: they eventually evolve into massive map-wide meta-events that require coordinated actions of a hundred plus players and take up to two hours!

The painterly UI is clean and fits the game perfectly, the world itself is carefully crafted with hidden gems here and there, it feels as alive as a digital game world possibly can, it looks gorgeous for a non-single-player game and sounds phenomenal thanks to the ingenious audio team, and things only get better as times goes and new tech is added; underlying infrastructure receives regular updates, there's next to no server downtime, and the game client can even stream the rest of the colossal amount of assets in the background while you are creating your character and playing in the first map. And if you're really confident in yourself as an MMO player, well, no one's stopping you from using the level 80 boost and jumping straight into the action—even though you will likely miss a part of the journey that is more important than the destination. Still, this will be your choice, and since playing Guild Wars 2 is all about choosing what YOU want to do, that's fine.

Five years is a long time, but when you're not blatantly grabbing money from your players and do try something that others haven't done yet, "a long time" is what it takes to get stuff right. Does this game still have flaws? Sure it does: people complain about lots of things, like outdated engine, lack of certain QoL features, visual clutter, poor matchmaking… but honestly, can't similar complaints be applied to other MMOs, and even games in general? Most of this feedback is generated by passionate players who got thousands of hours of gameplay out of a game, which, in case of GW2, totaled to measly 20 dollars per year; and these players are also a part of a larger community which is active enough to create art, define meta, scrutinize lore, and just have fun together outside the game. So, the actual question that we should be asking is this: are the great things in GW2 worth the price tag, and will its flaws matter in the first hundreds of hours that you explore the world? And my answers are: definitely, aaand highly unlikely. So, go try it, the base game is free—but keep in mind, there's a lot, a lot more exciting stuff still hidden in those expansion boxes!

My name's been Lishtenbird, and thank you for watching this episode of No Game Today. If you enjoyed it, feel free to visit my other projects for more comics, photos, and stories.